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Game Reviews
Gruntz
by Monolith Productions


A bit of a departure for Monolith Productions, Gruntz is a puzzle game where you move your units through maps of different worlds in order to escape the board. It seems that the Gruntz, along with their king, have been transported to a new land - one filled with danger and enemy Gruntz. Each world contains a piece of a stone, one which will allow them to leave the world when delivered to their king.

Gruntz is played from a top-down perspective. The world and units are animated sprites created from rendered objects. They're colorful and humorous, and the animation is smooth and clever. It's an easy matter to tell what is what on the board; even objects carried by the Gruntz are simple to determine at a glance.

Sound effects and music fit right in with the game theme. The music is cartoonish and makes for an appropriate background for the game. Gruntz comments are cute and silly, and depending on your disposition you'll either laugh or get annoyed with them very quickly. I couldn't help but smile as the Gruntz made their wisecracks or the king did his little song and dance. In any case, the sound is clear and of very good quality, whether you like it or not will be a matter of personal taste.

Gruntz features two types of games - Questz and Battlez. Battlez are just what they sound like, battles between enemy Gruntz. There is little or no puzzle solving in these, good battle strategies are what you need to win. These are also the game types that may be played in multiplayer mode. Questz are a little more complicated and are the real puzzle-oriented meat of the game.

The premise of the Questz game is simple: move your Gruntz through each world, picking up the stone that unlocks the level along the way. Move into the area where the king is waiting, and you may exit the world and go on to the next. As is the case with most good puzzle games, the idea is simple, but getting there is another story. Along the way, your Gruntz will encounter obstacles like walls, rivers, and enemy Gruntz. Even the terrain works against you. To help you, there are switches, powerups, tools, and toys. Switches will do things like move barriers, raise bridges, or change the direction of paths. Some switches require that a Gruntz remain standing on it to keep it activated, some are toggle switches that may be turned on or off by repeatedly stepping on or off of it. Others still are "one time use" switches - once activated there is no reversing the effect. Some switches require more than one Gruntz to be on marked platforms, others require the Gruntz to be carrying a specific tool or toy in order to activate it.

A variety of tools are also available to your Gruntz. Gauntlets smash rocks and bricks, shovels dig and fill holes, and straws suck up the goo left over by vanquished enemies (and may be used to create a new friendly Gruntz). In addition to the physical landmarks, you'll also have to square off against enemy Gruntz to get to your goal. Certain tools are geared towards helping you in a fight. Rocks, clubs, bombs, swords, and more are available to fight with. Each weapon has a certain power level so you can tell ahead of time whether you can win a fight or not. For instance, if your Gruntz has a sword and your enemy has a club, you know you'll win with no problem. In addition to tools are toys. Gruntz love toys so much, that they'll drop whatever they're doing to play with them. If you see an enemy that has a weapon too powerful for your Gruntz to overcome, simply give him a toy and he'll play with it until it breaks, giving you time to get past him and out of his range.

Also scattered throughout the levels are bonuses and powerups. You may replenish health, create new weapons or toys, gain temporary invisibility, a burst of speed, or other abilities. Levels are laid out so that you have what you need to finish the level, sometimes in more than one way.

The game interface is very well designed, left click on a unit to select it, then right click on an area to move him. Multiple units may be selected and moved at once. Default commands pop up when appropriate - if a Gruntz is wearing gauntlets and you move the mouse over a rock, "use tool" is the default option. Additionally, hotkeys are assigned so you can fine tune what it is you want to do. Encounter an enemy while carrying a tool and a toy (only one of each may be carried at any time), and you may choose which one to use. Along the right side of the screen is the main command panel, which allows you to grab newly created Gruntz or resources, as well as access game commands like save or load. Gruntz allows you to save your game at any time (always a welcome option), and additionally suggests save points to you when you're doing something potentially dangerous. In fact, the only problem with the interface lies in the pathfinding abilities of the Gruntz. Even if a safe path is clear, they will always take a straight-line route, even if it means hurting themselves.

Gruntz is a very entertaining puzzle game, one that requires some thought to solve the levels. It is also VERY reasonably priced, with an MSRP of under $20 US. It isn't an overly difficult game - each level has a logical path to victory, and failing usually means that you simply didn't look far enough ahead. Hidden secrets on each level are the most difficult things to find in the game, and give you something to search for. Unlike puzzles like Lemmings, Gruntz gives you the time to sit back and evaluate the situation - Gruntz aren't in constant motion. I found the Battlez tiring; I enjoyed the Questz much more.

Graphics
Sounds
Gameplay
Interface
Overall Impression

Bottom Line: Good puzzle game - not too difficult, but fun to solve. Animation is very good and the Gruntz are comical. Responses get a little repetitive, but cute nonetheless. Battlez are more combat-strategy oriented, while the Questz require more problem solving.

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